As expected, the fan base of the Pittsburgh Steelers is not in agreement as to whether or not they think the team should give running back Le’Veon Bell a lucrative contract extension prior to the start of the 2016 season. How split? Prior to writing this post I put a poll question up on Twitter and within 5 minutes I had 100 votes with 69% in favor of giving Bell a new contract this summer. This kind of split is understandable considering Bell’s injury history and lone suspension. With that said, let me point out to you some facts that come with waiting to extend Bell until after the 2016 that may change a few of your minds.
POLL: What should the #Steelers do with Le'Veon Bell?
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) June 17, 2016
For starters, not giving Bell a new contract this offseason would almost certainly lead to the Steelers having to franchise tag him prior to the start of the 2017 league in order to prevent him from reaching free agency. So how much is the running back franchise tag expected to be next year. I reached out to former NFL agent Joel Corry just to make sure and he told me he’s expecting that amount in 2017 to be $12.35 million if the league salary cap goes up another 8%. Being as his projections over the years when it comes to these kind of numbers have been fairly reliable, you can probably count on that number being very close to being right.
Once given that franchise tag, the Steelers are essentially telling Bell that he’s worth at least that amount per season. In other words, in no way should you expect his new money yearly average to be less than the franchise tag amount. If you do expect that, shame on you for not paying attention over the years.
Additionally, Bell isn’t guaranteed to sign the franchise tag once given it and you can’t blame him if he doesn’t. The same thing is happening right now with Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who said this week that he will not play in 2016 without a long-term deal in place. He’ll likely get one by July 15 as that is the deadline for all teams that designated a Franchise Player to sign such player to a multiyear contract or extension. After that date, the player may only sign a one-year contract with his team for the 2016 season, and that contract cannot be extended until after the team’s last regular season game.
Even though some of you probably view Bell as being injury prone, I consider him unlucky. I’m also not worried about his surgically repaired knee as the medicine associated with that kind of injury and the associated rehab has a great recent history. In other words, while it might take the first half of the 2016 season, I think we will ultimately see the same Bell that we’ve seen so far during the first three years of his career. There’s no reason to think that we won’t. Am I worried that he’ll be suspended again? No, I am not as I think he’s really learned his lesson.
Even with him now just returning from his knee injury, Bell is currently worth between $8-10 million a year, in my honest opinion. Those yearly numbers, however, are a bit hollow as the new guaranteed money is much more important. Is he worth giving around $15.5 million guaranteed right now at signing in order to extend his contract four more years? Yes, I think so, and especially if only $10 million of that is the signing bonus, $12 million at max. The Steelers might as well go ahead and fully or at least partially guarantee a $4.5 million base salary for Bell come the start of the 2017 new league year in March as well in order to sweeten the deal as he’ll be a lock to be on the team at least two years.
In short, the Steelers will probably have an opportunity to lock up Bell for four more years in addition to 2016 with an average yearly value of around $10 million a season and they should definitely jump on that. If they don’t, Bell’s likely going to want $13 million a season at the very least should the team have to ultimately use the franchise tag on him after the 2016 season.
If Bell proves his knee is fully healed later on this summer, the Steelers should sign him to an extension right away. In the grand scheme of the things, the risk (guaranteed money) is well worth the reward and not worth waiting being as the price tag is sure to go up. Bell isn’t just a running back, he’s an all-around running back and thus worth every penny.